After back to back defeats in December to Everton and Manchester City, it was vital that we bounced back with a string of victories against teams who we should really be beating especially in front of our own fans at home. It’s fair to say that we are yet to find our top gear but each victory will add a layer of confidence to our game.
After his boxing day late winner against the Baggies, it was no surprise to see Oliver Giroud back in the team to spearhead the team. I had no idea what Arsene would do to the rest of the team though as we had to keep an eye on the Tuesday game.
As it turned out, we got ‘a little bit short rotation’ with Lucas and Elneny coming in and Mesut Özil not included in the squad due to illness.
Much like the away victory in Ludogorets, the only thing I want to talk about is the goal by Oliver Giroud, a goal that will be remembered far more than the game itself.
A wonderful counter attacking move started by a Lucas interception inside our half. Bellerin to Giroud who produced a lovely flick to Xhaka, who passed it on to Iwobi on the left who in turn guided the ball onto Alexis down the left flank. Giroud had a bit of ground to make up and he motored up the pitch, head up, chest puffed forward and when Alexis switched back onto his right and delivered his cross Giroud had seemingly taken a step too far but instincts took over and his in the air flick saw the ball thud off the underside of the bar and into the goal for Oliver Giroud’s best Arsenal goal.
So many things to like about the goal, including just how annoyed it’s made Manchester United supporters feel after topping Mkhitaryan’s effort only a few weeks back.
* Listen to the gasps from the crowd on the replay. Wonderful stuff
Hector Bellerin had an outstanding game I thought, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a right back so involved in the midfield. I swear he could slot into that central role and not look out of place. He gives us so much from right back and is kinda irreplaceable in our squad.
Alex Iwobi was very good deputising for Mesut in the middle of the pitch, his movement allowed Alexis to take up central positions and fire in plenty of shots over the course of the game.
Lucas Perez is a very interesting player, I’m not quite sure if he is not quite up to speed or if he lacks something for the type of game we want to play. The intention is there but some of his passing or control just seems a fraction off. Maybe a run of games and everything will sharpen up. He definitely looks like a player who can score and make assists though. He will be kicking himself when he failed to control Iwobi’s lovely chipped pass through to him. Had he taken the ball down he would have been able to slot past (or at) the keeper but he miscontrolled into the grateful arms of Wayne Hennessey in the Crystal Palace goal. What did frustrate me about Perez, especially from the right flank, was the fact that he was only willing to cut inside onto his left side. Tim Stillman has mention one footed players a few times on our post match Arsenal Podcast but it’s not so much the choice of foot that frustrated me about Lucas, it was his choice of direction. When you compare him to someone like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a player who doesn’t particularly use his weaker foot but he is happy going inside or outside his man and that makes his a far less predictable player. Even a player like Alexis playing on the left has a tendency to always cut inside on his right but he has the technical quality to get away with it more often than not.
Xhaka is another of those folk who tends to drift only onto his stronger side but Granit had a fabulous game which Arsene purred about post match. His passing is a joy to behold isn’t it? I love the arc he puts on his passing, even those along the ground. I find it really unusual the way he hits the ball, maybe that’s just me but he’s like a footballing golfer, pulling out different clubs to execute a number of varied passes both short and long. There definitely seems room for improvement in his game too and that is exciting.
Another highlight of our play was that we were far more willing to get our fullbacks behind their defence with runs rather than just sticking to wide positions. It’s something we often lack in our games and I think Arsene may have been alluding to this when he spoke about our lack of movement against West Brom in the first half. We will score many more goals if we can keep this up, even if it could potentially leave us a tad exposed when we lose possession. Both Bellerin and Monreal looked to make darting runs when the likes of Xhaka, Iwobi or Alexis got on the ball.
Our first real chance of the game came from that position. Xhaka back spinning his pass to Monreal and his cross was missed by Giroud at the near post. I can think of an Iwobi pass that was cut out to Bellerin early on too. Monreal almost stole the ball from Townsend inside the box after making one of those darts from left to centre. There were many examples of these during the 90 minutes.
I was watching Adrian Clarke’s mid season review on the Arsenal Player and he spoke about Arsenal’s poor record from half time to 70 minutes or something and it was during this phase, just after half time where Palace were presented with their best opportunity of the game. Benteke headed wide from a Townsend cross when he should have done better.
10 minutes later the game was pretty much over. Alex Iwobi heading superbly over Hennessey following Monreal’s deflected cross. Worth noting that Monreal had made another overlapping run into the opposition box. It was a very clever header, guiding it over the defenders on the line and into the net.
We took our foot off the gas a little which allowed Palace back into the game, we probably had Tuesday’s game on our mind and decided to play on the break to conserve energy.
I was surprised that Alexis had stayed on the pitch when Arsene had made the subs. I get the feeling that Arsene didn’t feel 100% confident that the game was won and decided to forget about Bournemouth until after the match.
So two wins in a row, two clean sheets in a row, confidence rebuilding and a goal of the season contender. I’ll have a bit of that, now onto Bournemouth on Tuesday.